This Pongal at the very outset appeared to be special, what with ‘Thala’ Ajith’s Veeram clashing with ‘Ilayathalapathy’ Vijay’s Jilla. While this is not the first time that the two popular Tamil actors are aiming for top honours with their festival release at the same time, this is the first time their films are clashing in the last 6 years. That in itself makes this contest worthwhile for not just the fans of these 2 actors, but also for all those who follow Tamil Cinema seriously. Close on the heels of the announcement of Arrambam (then untitled and code named as Thala 53), Ajith ended up signing for Veeram, a film to be directed by ‘Siruthai’ Siva and produced by the veteran production house, Vijaya Productions. The actual production of the film started only post the release of Billa 2, and we had Ajith juggling between the shoot of Arrambam and Veeram, two films which are as different as chalk and cheese.
The first look poster and the teasers set the tempo for Veeram as they clearly suggested that this was a mass masala entertainer in the making, with Ajith taking up a small town/semi-rural subject after a long time. His white shirt and veshti (dhoti) attire also reminded us of his popular mass avatar in Attagasam (2004). All this was fine but I was still unsure of whether director Siva would be able to do justice to the ‘star’ in Ajith and give him a role that is not only worthwhile but also come up with a wholesome entertainer from end to end. Granted that his previous Tamil film Siruthai was a hit but then it was a remake of a successful Telugu film – Vikramarkudu (later remade in Hindi as well in the form of Rowdy Rathore). To top it all Siva ended up with a dud prior to Veeram in the form of the Telugu film, Daruvu (2012). Prior to the film’s release there were also strong rumours that the film was a remake of the Malayalam film Valiyettan (2000) probably thanks to Ajith’s look bearing similarity to Mammootty’s in the earlier film and also for the fact that both the heroes have younger brothers. Keeping all these things in mind it was with a cautious note that I set off to watch the ‘First Day First Show’ of Veeram at Mumbai’s popular Aurora Cinema.
The screening as usual started off with typical fanfare as seen by the way the fans seemed to be in full flow. Veeram is a tale that begins in the small town of Oddanchatram (in Dindigul district) where Vinayagam (Ajith) lives along with his four brothers (Bala, Vidharth, Munish & Suhail Chandok). They run a transport business and are known to be do-gooders who do not shirk away from resorting to violence when needed. They are also constantly supported by Bail Perumal (Santhanam), their lawyer and friend in all that they do. Vinayagam who had brought up his brothers on his own from childhood decides that marriage is a taboo for him and his brothers as the lady coming in might go on to break the wonderful bond between the brothers. But the brothers seem to think differently as two of them are already in love. So along with Bail Perumal they think of ways to get Vinayagam to fall in love, in the hope that this would clear the decks for them as well.
The girl whom they zero in upon is a student Kopperundevi (Tamannaah) who comes to the town on a temple sculpture and painting restoration activity along with her college mates. The brothers and Santhanam try their ways of getting Vinayagam and Kopperundevi to fall for each other, which happens over time after a few minor funny incidents. Then there is a dramatic development which sees the story shift to Kaveripattinam (a town in Dharmapuri district) where Vinayagam and his brothers in a totally different avatar set out to win the respect of Kopperundevi’s family. What happens from thereon is what the rest of the story is all about. To be honest there’s nothing breathtakingly new about the plot. It’s a fairly simple tale of a do-gooder who would go all out to uphold the safety and protection of his near and dear ones.
The film is certainly not at all a remake or adaptation of Valiyettan, so that’s one theory to be thrown out of the window straight away. In fact probably thanks to all the work that director Siva has done in Telugu Cinema, Veeram looks and feels more like a hard core Telugu potboiler with all the necessary ingredients intact. The film is a vehicle designed to portray Ajith in a slightly different avatar as he’s been more recently seen in urban centric films portraying characters with shades of grey. Here he is the quintessential good guy, the typical hero of time immemorial who would have a reason in case he does anything wrong. The first half is basically a fun ride with Ajith getting to play to the gallery be it with his fights, dialogues, gestures etc. The second half is more focussed on the family audience though Siva has ensured that the action quotient is retained to keep the flow of the film smooth all throughout.
There are a lot of characters in the film, with most of them being handled by popular actors but not everyone gets prominent space in the film. People like Ramesh Khanna, Devadarshini and Vidyullekha Raman all there to provide comic relief, hardly are visible. But Santhanam more than makes up for it and ensures that he brings in the laughs, though it’s more of the passable variety. In the second half he has Thambi Ramaiah for company though the latter’s presence is of the loud and predictable type. People like Appukutty and Avinash leave an impact in their small yet reasonably important characters. The villains have nothing much to do in the film and both Pradeep Rawat and Atul Kulkarni, have a couple of scenes specifically built to show off their menacing side, but otherwise they look and feel quite harmless.
Nassar is quite good while the role per se is a cakewalk for a veteran like him. Others like Sumithra and Rohini Hattangady have nothing much to contribute and at best are part of the ensemble cast. Among the 4 guys playing Ajith’s brothers, Bala and Vidharth get the maximum mileage, probably more to do with them being the senior of the lot. Tamannaah has to just look pretty and while at least in the 1st half she has some screen presence at least, post interval she has virtually nothing to do. The action sequences are definitely a highlight for the film and Stunt Silva’s work is praiseworthy, especially the train fight which is handled very well. Despite a run time of 161 minutes the film is fairly consistent with the pace and both director Siva and editor M.Kasiviswanathan need to be appreciated for the same.
Devi Sri Prasad’s music isn’t all that impressive by itself but when viewed as part of the film, the songs seem to still work reasonably. While the soothing Ival Dhaana (lyrics by Vivega and sung by Saagar and Shreya Ghoshal) is the pick of the lot, the Veeram theme song (sung by Anand, Koushik, Deepak and Jagadish) and Nalavannu Solvaanga (sung by Devi Sri Prasad himself) carry a lot of tempo. Though Veeram is hardly a path-breaking film it is definitely to Siva’s credit that he has been able to give a slightly different change of image and milieu to Ajith when compared to his recent films, and yet cater to the trappings of the star and make it pleasing for his fans. Needless to say a film like Veeram will only work if a star with the right screen presence can pull it off convincingly and Ajith does it more than comfortably.
One concern that I’ve had with a lot of Ajith films in the past is that while the film starts impressively and the 1st half looks headed the right way, the second half syndrome sets in and sort of ruins the proceedings overall. The recent Arrambam is one such example where again the 2nd half sort of disappointed. Thankfully here the film falls safe and is engaging from start to end, this in itself is a major victory for Siva. The film changes tracks across the two halves but still manages to leave an impact overall. Overall the film is an Ajith vehicle as he completely steals the show effortlessly. As Vinayagam he gets to stay in his element and display a good mixture of caution and aggression.
Veeram is a true blue example of a film which handles the presence of a big star pretty well and makes the fans pretty happy. For the regular audience it may not cut a lot of ice but then remember this is a typical festival entertainer and viewed from that angle it has its appeal in its own way.